Gopro Motorsports Hero Wide
A few months back, I came across the GoPro Motorsports Hero Wide digital photo and video camera on the pages of this very magazine. It was one of the many cool items featured in a special "Gotta Have Gadgets" section from last year's SEMA show. After pondering a rather intriguing description, I popped on to the company website to learn a bit more about it.
It seemed like the real deal: weighing in at a teensy four and a half ounces, armed with a glass lens f2.8 with 170o field of view, auto exposure, capability of still photos with 5 megapixel resolution (2592 x 1944), manual shooting or automatic settings for 2 and 5 second increments, ability to record up 56 minutes of 512 x 384 video using the optional 2Gb SD memory card, adjustable sound level, PC USB connectivity, six re-usable mounts and associated hardware (five quick release and one special heavy-duty suction cup), shockproof, waterproof to 100 feet, and powered by two AAA batteries. Further exploration revealed limited galleries of both sample photos and videos. I highly recommend you check them out, even if you have no interest in a new camera, as the videos are particularly striking. The mild fish-eye view is super cool and makes for interesting photo and video compositions. The quality of the digital images is extremely good, especially those taken under bright natural light. I had been thinking about how I could diversify my still photo equipment arsenal, and I have never ventured into the personal video realm, so spending the $199.99 seemed like a reasonable risk given what I had seen on the web.
My new GoPro Hero Motorsports Wide kit arrived along with the optional 2Gb memory card. The instructions were very straightforward and I was able to do some testing with various settings around the house before mounting it on the car. One important point I found buried in the instructions was that it's recommended you use lithium batteries in the camera, due to the vibration of motorsport applications. This is a good tip, because regular alkaline batteries fail under strong vibration. The night before a track event I experimented with the flexible suction cup mount until I was comfortable, finding a good position for the quintessential "behind the front wheel view" as well as an interesting place behind the driver's shoulder on the outside of the rear side window. I also installed two fixed quick-release mounts (one on the front and one rear), both hidden, and centered slightly below bumper level to enhance the feeling of speed in the videos. This would allow for simple and ultra quick camera position changes, as I really don't like to waste my valuable track time.
At the track, it was a beautiful sunny day, with a vivid blue sky and some nice puffy white clouds. As I had hoped, the baby camera captured some high quality photos and videos. Even when the camera is set close to road level, the wide-angle lens still picks up a large amount of blue sky with a most artistic composition. Using the fixed quick-release mounts does create minor blurring in the picture quality due to the unavoidable vibration at track speeds. To reduce this effect, I recommend taking slower "photo" laps when in still shooting mode. The videos were also excellent quality due the perfect lighting conditions and to the pre-planning of the camera positions. The vibration effect here actually adds to the feeling of speed on the videos, as does the fish eye wide angle lens. The downside of the wide angle lens is that "objects are closer than they appear." For best results, I recommend having a trustworthy buddy drive a lap or two in close proximity, say one or two car lengths. You will hear both cars clearly and the footage will be much more exciting. One other point, by setting the sound level to low, this captures superb engine, exhaust, and tire screeching audio with very little wind noise, due to the shockproof and waterproof casing. Just crank up the volume when you view the clips.
For its size and price point, the GoPro camera rocks. But remember to keep the shiny side up-this ain't NASCAR. -Doug Neilson